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b.c. politics

Adrian Dix held his news conference near the Olympic Cauldron because of rules against use of caucus offices for party events.Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix took a low-cost approach on Monday to countering provincial government advertising that he called thinly disguised campaign ads – a tactic observers said highlights the challenge the opposition party faces trying to compete for votes on May 14.

"We have a Liberal Party that has a lot more money than us, obviously, and is prepared to spend, and prepared to spend taxpayers' money like we have never seen before," Mr. Dix told reporters during a news conference held against the backdrop of the Olympic Cauldron at Coal Harbour rather than the caucus offices in a Hastings Street skyscraper a few blocks away.

The news conference had to be off-site because it was a party event, and therefore not allowed in a caucus venue, which may have helped with the NDP message, marketing professor Lindsey Meredith of Simon Fraser University said. "It's a much better visual than a shot in a boardroom with a few tables and chairs and junk like that," he said.

Mr. Dix announced an online petition campaign to rally public opposition to what he called a pre-election ad campaign aimed at improving the odds the B.C. Liberals will be re-elected to a fourth term.

The NDP Leader said he was watching Seattle take on Atlanta in the weekend National Football League game when he saw the ads touting the B.C. government's jobs plan. "While I wasn't happy about the score, what I also saw was repeated B.C. government, partisan Liberal advertising," he said, alleging the cost was about $15-million from contingency funds.

While he declined to be specific, he said an NDP government would not run such ads, promising a policy in due course. "Stay tuned," he said.

Hamish Telford, a political scientist at the University of the Fraser Valley, suggested Mr. Dix was getting out his message now, before he gets caught up in his duties as Opposition leader when the B.C. legislature resumes next month and he can't get out to interesting locations for news conferences. "He's taking time to set the tone for the legislature session and the campaign," he said.

NDP secretary Jan O'Brien said, in an interview, the party has been appealing to its supporters for donations to close the fundraising gap with the B.C. Liberals, and hopes to run a fully funded campaign once writs drop in April.

"A political party which relies on donations does not have the same deep pockets as government," she said.

In 2011, the B.C. Liberals raised twice as much money as the New Democrats – $9-million compared to $4.4-million. Ms. O'Brien noted 2012 figures will be released eventually.

Transportation Minister Mary Polak defended the use of ads as a valid means of communicating with voters that past NDP governments have used. "When you operate in a democracy, one of the important things you need to do as a government is ensure that the public understands the objectives behind the decisions you're making, especially when they're difficult ones – to control government spending and keep taxes low. In these ads, we are able to show the public why it is it's important to make those decisions."

Ms. Polak, designated on Monday as the cabinet spokesperson on the issue, also said she was not in a position to disclose the precise cost of ads because spending is evolving with the campaigns, but that costs will be disclosed through public accounts by the end of the fiscal year.

Asked why the Premier and cabinet did not just calls news conferences or issue statements to hammer home the same messages, Ms. Polak cited efficiency. "We try to choose the most effective means and these ads are certainly well produced and effective in their message," she said. "Governments also use a mix of advertising they purchase and earned media as a result of press releases, etc."

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